Brooklyn-based collective The Bruce High Quality Foundation has recently reopened its free-art-education initiative, the Bruce High Quality Foundation University (BHQFU). Located at 34 Avenue A in Manhattan’s East Village, the artist-run school is tuition-free and features courses such as “Advanced Drawing,” “What is Important?” and “You Watching Me Googling You.” [Click here for course listing.] The BHQF members described the school to A.i.A. via email as a place where “artists work together to manifest creative, productive, resistant, useless, and demanding interactions between art and the world.”
BHQFU dean Haley Mellin oversees the school and works with the artists to develop its direction. She told A.i.A. in an interview, “This is a project that comes from a think tank approach. What unfolds is primarily drawn from the daily lives of contemporary artists rather than past educational models.” In an interview with A.i.A., the Bruces explained that the current spring semester was developed through a class Mellin ran in the fall called “Curriculum.” “Haley’s class was for people interested in teaching and managing different aspects of the school. The participants in ‘Curriculum’ worked in teams, giving each other feedback on course ideas,” said the Bruces. “And through this work we arrived at the set of classes currently on offer at BHQFU. The course was also an opportunity to discuss the mission of the school in relation to the history of education.”
In much of their work, the Cooper Union graduates have often demonstrated their concern regarding the current state of higher education, specifically the wildly escalating costs one must incur in order to attend institutions of higher learning. The artists explained that the idea for the school originated when they began talking to artists who were deciding whether or not to go to graduate school. “We would host dinners and ask everyone we could what they thought an artist’s education should look like. And then we realized we were already doing it—that this was the central question that could keep on giving us new answers, and that what we were creating was an active experiment with the possibilities of artist-centric education.”
Founded in 2001, BHQF consists of a group of three to eight rotating members who remain anonymous in an effort to challenge the art-star system that pervades the contemporary art world. The collective creates work in a variety of formats and mediums—including installation, performance, and sculpture—all with the aim of addressing social and political issues. The collective first opened their school in fall of 2009 on the second floor of a West Broadway walk-up but were forced to shut its doors due to the high cost of rent. “And we’ve reopened because now we can,” said the Bruces. “Ultimately the pause was a good thing. It gave us a chance to regroup, to put a little bit of structure in place, and to evaluate how things were working.” One of the newest additions to the curriculum is a guest lecture series that usually takes place at the school on Sunday. The series has featured speakers such as Bob Colacello, John Connelly, Caveh Zahedi, who presented a recent film, and representatives from The Center for Urban Pedagogy and the Brooklyn Institute for Social Research, who talked about new models of education in the city.
So, what solution do the Bruces offer to the problem of the high costs of higher education? “Stop going to ludicrously expensive schools,” they said. “That’s the only way to end the culture of debt for education. [There are] thousands upon thousands of talented, intelligent artists who want to learn. So how should they? Coming up with new solutions to this problem is what BHQFU is all about.”